Joss Whedon’s Firefly is a science fiction series that lived and died on the Fox Network in the Fall of 2002. Fourteen episosdes were shot, but only eleven were aired before the series was canceled, to the consternation of the surprisingly large number of loyal fans that the show conjured up in the split second of its existence. In my view, Firefly is one of the best sci-fi shows ever, second only to Battlestar Galactica (the new one, of course, not the original, which I call Battlescow Spasmatica, just so there’s no confusion).
Firefly, like most contemporary TV, has a multiracial cast, including a white man married to a black woman (to me, that just underscores the sci-fi element). If you are going to enjoy the show, you’ll simply have to overlook that. But seven of the nine cast members are white, all of them are highly appealing. Furthermore, the substance of the series has a deep spiritual appeal to whites, for it combines two paradigmatically “Faustian” genres: the Western and the Space Opera. In essence, Firefly is a Space Western. (Cf. Star Trek‘s “final frontier.”) The genre mashup also makes Firefly a quintessentially “archeofuturist” drama.
Firefly has a number of politically incorrect elements.
First of all, the back story was inspired by the American Civil War and its aftermath, when many Southerners went West to escape Reconstruction. Firefly is set in the 26th century, after the human race has spread to another vast star system with a number of populous central planets and a Wild West of hundreds of moons. In the aftermath of a Civil War between the Alliance (the Union) and the Independents (the Confederacy), the defeated Independents have “gone West,” looking for freedom. But the centralized Alliance regime keeps extending its web of control.
The Firefly of the title is a smuggler’s spaceship called Serenity, captained by Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion. Reynolds was a sergeant in the Independents’ army (the browncoats). In short, he is a Confederate of sorts. (Fillion himself is a descendant of Confederate general Jubal Early.)
Second, the Independents fought for freedom and self-determination, and throughout the series, their values are shown to be natural and noble, whereas the Alliance is shown to be arrogant, meddlesome, and ultimately totalitarian — albeit a hidden, soft, liberal form of totalitarianism. Unlike the Confederacy, the Independents were not fighting for slavery, which seems to exist under the Alliance, at least on the outer planets, and is treated with contempt by the freedom-loving crew of Serenity. These libertarian, anti-big government, and anti-paternalist sentiments are, of course, unusual in television today, where they are usually ascribed to unsavory, villainous rednecks. (I hasten to add that this kind of individualism is inimical to the racial collectivism of the New Right.)
The Alliance is apparently a kind of One World government scheme, an Anglo-Chinese condominium formed of previously independent colonies established by the Americans and Chinese, the two nations that went on to colonize space. Or so the story goes. Of course America has no space program now, because we need to spend our tax dollars birthin’ Mexican anchor babies and giving free cell phones to Negroes. The Chinese may go forward into the Space Age, but America is going back to the Stone Age.
A third politically incorrect aspect of Firefly is its overwhelming paleomasculinity. Malcolm Reynolds is a particularly well-realized portrait of an Aryan alpha male. Although he is an outlaw, he lives by an Aryan code of honor. He is courageous, intelligent, and highly chivalrous. Although he is in love with Inara (Morena Baccarin), a high-class whore (“companion”) who travels on his ship and grants it an air of respectability, he disapproves of her life and of his love for her, so he never manages to tell her his feelings.
Inara, for her part, reciprocates his feelings and shares his inability to express them. Although the companions dress sexual commerce up in the trappings of a religious order, Inara has discovered that there is something truly sacred about sex, something that is entirely incompatible with her liberated, promiscuous, ironic, and profane existence. In the end, she leaves the ship because the only alternative is to submit completely to Mal’s strength and give up whoring.
Don’t these old-fashioned “hangups” about morality and sex and monogamy add a certain depth and drama to human existence? Ahh well, “freedom” marches on.
This brings us to a fourth politically incorrect aspect of Firefly: one can’t make a Western without incorporating a whole range of archaic values like chivalry, patriarchy, and simple politeness, which are shown in a largely positive light. A case in point: in one episode, Mal acquires a very submissive wife who cooks and serves him dinner. Following the feminist script, second mate Zoe (played by black actress Gina Torres, whom I find grotesque) is outraged when her husband, the pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk) expresses approval. In a later episode, however, after Wash has established his heroic bona fides, we find Zoe cooking and serving his dinner. And not long after that, she is talking about having his children.
Another politically incorrect aspect of Firefly is its treament of religion. Joss Whedon is an atheist, but he treats religion with the utmost seriousness. Mal Reynolds is portrayed as an atheist, but at the very beginning of the pilot, it is clear that he was actually a religious man who lost his faith when the Independents were defeated. One of the passengers on Serenity is Shepherd Book (played by the black actor Ron Glass), a traveling Christian minister. (Buddhism also continues to exist in this universe as well.) For Whedon, the significance of religion lies less in the fictions in which men believe, than in the real human needs that belief satisfies.
Joss Whedon’s other series include Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse. He plays entirely within the PC rules of the TV industry, but for all that, he is one of its most talented and imaginative storytellers. Firefly has all the marks of a Whedon series, chiefly brilliant storytelling, light humor and irony around a core of deep seriousness and real emotional power, and great linguistic inventiveness (laconic corn pone with expletives in Mandarin), which adds an important concreteness to the alternate universes he creates. The series also has beautiful music, particularly in the last episodes.
Some series take a couple of years to work the bugs out. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a miserable thing until the third season, for instance. Firefly has a strong pilot, followed by three middling episodes and one crappy one (“Safe,” Drew Z. Greenberg’s tale of how two members of the crew are kidnapped by some savage, supersititious redneck goyim who want to burn them as witches), then it soars with episode six (“Our Mrs. Reynolds”) and never comes down. My favorite episodes are number eight, “Out of Gas”; number nine, “Ariel,” which feels like a feature film in 42 minutes; and number twelve, “The Message,” which would have been the most moving story ever told on TV — if Fox had seen fit to air it.
I highly recommend Firefly. But I warn you. If you watch it, you will not want it to end. Many of the series’ direhard fans, who dubbed themselves “browncoats,” felt the same way. Eventually their campaign to revive the series led to Joss Whedon making a feature film, Serenity, to bring some closure to the story. I will review that next.